The Media Today

Breaking through the administration’s lies on immigration

June 19, 2018

After weeks of slow-burning coverage, the crisis over family separations at the US border exploded over the weekend, and reporting on the issue dominated the national conversation on Monday. Network and cable news programs broadcast live from the southern border, and journalists pressed administration officials at a heated White House press briefing.

“The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant families at the border and detain children apart from their parents spiraled into a humanitarian and political crisis Monday as the White House struggled to contain the growing public outcry,” write The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Seung Min Kim on today’s front page. President Trump and his spokespeople have remained defiant, falsely blaming Democratic lawmakers for the crisis, even as a bipartisan backlash grows.

ICYMI: Reporter for The Atlantic has extreme experience with Facebook’s reps

Amid firsthand reports and images from detention centers, Monday’s most impactful reporting came from an audio clip of children crying as they were separated from their parents. ProPublica obtained the recording from inside a US Customs and Border Protection facility. “The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening,” wrote ProPublica’s Ginger Thompson. “Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

The piece published just before a White House Press Briefing from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who again tried to shift the responsibility for the administration’s decisions to lawmakers. There is no law requiring parents and children to be separated at the border; the administration has made the choice to refer parents crossing the border illegally for criminal prosecution rather than handling the cases in civil court.

Trump, who regularly relies on cable news for information, has been suspicious of the coverage, telling aides that “he believes the media cherry-picks the most dramatic images and stories to portray his administration in a negative light,” according to the Post. On that front, he’s been getting plenty of backup from Fox News’s opinion hosts. Tucker Carlson told his viewers to be wary of those arguing for compassion. “No matter what they tell you, this isn’t about helping children,” Carlson said. “Their goal is to change your country forever.” Later in the evening, Laura Ingraham ignored the growing body of evidence concerning conditions at the detention centers, arguing that the facilities housing separated children are, “essentially summer camps.

ICYMI: After 25 years, editorial cartoonist fired from newspaper

The administration’s lies about and misrepresentations of its border policy have pushed reporters into unfamiliar territory. From headlines to briefing room questions, journalists are taking a more forceful line against the official line. NYU’s Jay Rosen flagged a comment from veteran NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell talking about the immigration crisis that sums up the current moment:

“This has precipitated a real soul searching among journalists. Because those of us raised in the traditional frame of ‘on the one hand and on the other hand’ are finding that we can no longer stand quietly and just describe this policy without pointing out that this is being misrepresented. And it’s very uncomfortable for a lot of people of my generation of journalists to constantly be saying the president misrepresented, he misspoke, this is a lie, this is not true. But people have to speak out.”

Below, more on the growing crisis at the border.

  • How we got here: CNN’s Brian Stelter traces the build-up in national coverage over the past few days. “Among the reasons for the surge of news coverage: President Trump’s lies about the policy, sustained outrage among immigration advocates, and organized protests by Democratic lawmakers,” Stelter writes. He also noted that local outlets like the Houston Chronicle were early to the story.
  • Final word: NBC News’s Lester Holt, anchoring his program from Mission, Texas, concluded last evening’s show with a forceful statement: “What is happening here is testing our better angels, on multiple fronts, challenging our competing values of protecting our sovereignty and honoring our hearts. As the local border chief here told me today, ‘It’s complicated and many-layered,’ to which I thought to myself, ‘Isn’t that the way it is with most matters of the heart?’”
  • United front: All five living first ladies have spoken out against the family-separation policy. Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and even Melania Trump have, to varying degrees, expressed disgust and concern with the current practice.
  • The big picture: As midterm elections approach, The New York Times’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman tie the administration’s defense of its border policy to the racist themes that characterized his campaign. “President Trump sent his clearest signal yet on Monday that he intends to make divisive, racially charged issues like immigration central going into the campaign season,” they write.


Other notable stories

  • On the same day that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong completed his purchase of the LA Times, he named veteran journalist Norman Pearlstine as its executive editor. The paper’s Meg James and Andrea Chang capture the mood in the building as the Times emerges from years of corporate mismanagement: “The Los Angeles Times has a new owner, a new editor and, after years of upheaval, a new path forward.”
  • The New York Times’s Jacob Bernstein has an in-depth look at the complicated history of Interview magazine—and its possible rebirth just months after it folded. Bernstein traces the path charted by initial investor and eventual owner Peter Brant, and the myriad issues the magazine has had in recent years.
  • CJR’s Karen K. Ho takes a deep dive into the uncertain future of Consumer Reports. The venerable product guide is still one of the most popular magazine titles in America, but, Ho writes, “income at the company is down, subscriptions are falling, and the 83-year-old magazine faces an ever-growing assortment of advertising-driven and online-only competitors.”
  • In welcomed news, New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly reports that Tronc plans to change its name back to Tribune Publishing. “Ex-chairman Michael Ferro pushed for ‘Tronc’ in June 2016. It supposedly stood for Tribune Online Content, but was widely ridiculed at the time of the announcement,” Kelly writes.
  • Noah Kotch, who has guided Fox News Digital through a period of growth, has been named the new editor-in-chief of and MailOnline, according to The Guardian’s Mark Sweney.

ICYMI: Trump’s immigration policy takes center stage

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.